Unlike the ukelele, which was introduced by European sailors, this is the only true indigenous Hawaiian stringed instrument, evolving from hunting bow into one with plucked strings that becomes a mouth harp. The ukelele came from Portugal and the guitar’s influence on Hawaii came from Spain. The ukeke, meanwhile, (pronounced ooh-kay-kay), can be made from a variety of hardwoods or more commonly the acacia koe, most commonly fitted with nylon strings similar to those on the ukelele, but older models have been from fishing lines, horse hair or coconut fibre. Whether one, two or three strings, in the latter’s case creating an A-major triad, strummed while the player hold this simple instrument in the mouth to create a resonating chamber. Ukeke music is associated with romance, seduction and lovemaking, known as hula and mele. Here’s an expert maker Mahi La Pierre explaining its evolution and demonstrating how it is played:
Notable ukeke figures include master Hawaiian instrument builder kumu hula Lanakila Brandt of Kealakekua, who taught the composer Kimo Huybrechts. Other composers who have incorporated it in their work include Palani Vaughn and Ranga Pae.
There are plenty of ukelele songs out there, but have you seen or heard the ukeke in any context? Feel free to share other examples in songs or instrumentals, on albums, or other contexts? Feel free to share your examples in comments below. Do these make you think of something else? Then also feel free to comment below, on the contact page, or on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Please subscribe, follow and share.